They say the best way to create a tradition is to repeat something, and indeed that’s what happened on New Year’s Day 1996. The Stornoway Gazette (11/1/96) carried a report by Donna and Alasdair Barden on the second running of the Iomain Challainn. “Comann Camanachd Leodhais sent word round the shinty groups known to be active on the island that an all-comers game would be played in the traditional Lewis style on New Year’s Day at 2pm”

The report mentions Dileas, Tong’s three legged collie as well as a cameo by Callum McLeod, who was stationed in Stornoway and was travelling to play for the 90s incarnation of Lochbroom. The game finished 8-8, but “with no goalies a penalty shoot-out seemed just too silly.”

The next report is in the Gazette dated 5/3/96, about a tournament played on Saturday 2nd March. “The weather was kind, the participants eager to show off their skills with camans at the ready – a great recipe for good viewing.”

This again was a Cuach nan Dusan tournament (the trophy seems to be lost to the ages). Sandwick and Back entered undre 8 teams and Sandwick came out on top. There were 5 under-12 teams with Back, Sandwick Harriers, Stornoway and two teams from Tong. The Tong Smokebusters had Peter “Pizza” starring for them with a hat-trick, but it was Stornoway who won the competition despite only having been allowed to play with four players due to not having the requisite number of girls.

The report closes with a mention that the Sports Festival would include shinty for the first time. The classic Barden flair is in evidence “come along and experience this little bit of history for yourself.” That history would happen on Saturday 30th March.

Six teams took part, including three under-12 teams with “great names” such as Stornoway Riscos, Sandwick Harriers and Tong Flying Doctors, and there were three teams in the Under-15s, Back, the Stornoway Mighty Ducks (a very 90s reference) and Sandwick Jets.

The Flying Doctors won the under-12s but the under-15s tournament was marred by disagreements about scores and so the Ducks and the Jets played a Golden Goal competition. The Ducklings “quacked a superb goal” that won them the event.

The following week also saw Neil Maclennan and Duncan Kelly visit the island and delivered coaching to 31 young people as part of the Camanachd Association’s Hydro School of Sport at the old Sports Centre.

The report written by Donna Barden makes pains to thank Donald John Smith, then Sports Co-ordinator as well as the staff at Community Education for getting shinty on to the programme. With shinty still struggling from time to time to gain the respect of some elements of the Lewis sporting establishment, it is a reminder of how far the sport has travelled but still has to go.

The next mention of shinty is in the Gazette dated 6/6/96 and describes ” a shinty award crossed the Minch for the first time” as Comann Camananchd Leòdhais received the Peter English Cup from the committee of the Shinty Year Book. Dr Peter English of Glenurquhart had presented the trophy for endeavour in juvenile shinty and was presented by himself to club chieftain Neil Ferguson and his son Norman at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. Aptly, Peter’s nephew Alasdair Maclean was at that time promoting shinty in Uist as local policeman!

Mr Ferguson said “the award marks a new step in the revival of shinty in the islands and an ecouraging response was received from the clubs present at the presentation” Donna Barden, who was secretary sad “We are very honoured, it’s a great boost and encouragenment for us. We’ve been running now for well over a year with children aged six and seven up to fifteen.”

Norman and Neil Ferguson accept the Shinty Yearbook Dr Peter English Trophy for Comann Camanachd Leòdhais

Donna also makes clear how important competition for youngsters is “We’ve also started tournaments as the children seem to like them. It’s healthy to have a bit of competition, I think without them they may lose interest.”

This article also gives a great overview of the extent of shinty at that time in Lewis and Harris – naming the groups training at Tong, Back, Stornoway and Sandwick as well as new groups being formed on the West Side at Tolsta Chaolais and Breasclete. A group in Harris is also getting off to a slow start. The club also was looking for support around developing the under-15 game and secure more interisland matches with in Lewis, Uist and Skye. The need for more competitive action on island for young people and the slow development of shinty in Harris, this is still a challenge after almost 30 years!

It was also an opportunity to expound a vision of the club from Dr Barden himself, one that chimes with the can-do pioneer spirit he brought to the sport’s revival “when you do something yourself on a small scale it’s great to get some encouragement. Because people don’t know much about it locally in some ways this is an advantage because people don’t have preconceived ideas about it.”

This rich article signs off with the news that the Lord of the Isles Trophy would be played for in 1997.

Later in June, it seems shinty had started to make its cultural mark as mention of a new indoor hockey club in the island in the Gazette states “Shinty and uni-hoc have new rivals among young island stick wielders”.

Of much greater significance was the trip of Stornoway Shinty Club to Badenoch. This saw them play both Kingussie and Newtonmore at under 13 level. The Stornoway club was well drilled by Callum McLeod and Kenny Morrison, so pushed Kingussie all the way in a 5-4 defeat. Newtonmore took note of Stornoway’s level of play and “beefed up their team slightly” and won 11-5. Even at an early age, there wasn’t anyone more likely than Daniel MacRae, better known as Danny, who would go on to great things for Newtonmore to beef up a team. The Gazette as always loved a link to Lewis and didn’t fail to mention Danny’s grandmother Murdina Harry hailed from Ness. Playing for Newtonmore that day was also our very own Paul Duke.

“Compliments were made by both sides as to the level of skill that Stornoway had achieved in their first year of playing the game. It was felt that if entry to the league was impractical one of the cup competitions should be entered.” It only took another 10 years or so to get to that point. Who knew that Dukey would be playing when that happened!

Stornoway Under 13s in Badenoch

The Gazette of Thursday 3rd October showed that the shinty phenomenon was gathering pace. A Skye based tv company called Abu-tele filmed Glòir nan Caman which explored the links between shinty and hurling and featured Donna Barden and some of her youth players. She was in good company with John Willie Campbell and Sorley MacLean by all accounts.

The publicity still for Glòir nan Caman

This rich 1996 continued apace in the November 21 edition of the Gazette as a combination of twelve players from Sandwick and Back headed to Plockton on 29th and 30th November to test the skills against Plockton. They received coaching and games against local teams. Boyd MacKenzie, Joan Murphy and Craig Parks accompanied the youngsters on their trip to Wester Ross.

Two weeks later the 12th of December’s Gazette held a very entertaining report. The young people travelled via Uig and saw the Serpentarium in Broadford before heading over for the then new Bridge for their training session on the pitch at Plockton. They covered dribbling, passing, blocking and cleeking.

After a small rest, they reconvened at 5pm for a 5 a-side torunament with local schools. Lewis did not win either of their two games but enjoyed the competition and then enjoyed a trip to the swimming pool.

The main event was on the Saturday morning and saw perfect conditions. “Plockton fieledd an experienced side but Lewi s matched them with their enthusiasm and determination. They played an open game, passing furiously from one end of the pitch to the other.” However, Plockton’s experience showed “as the goal tally began to rise.” Alasdair MacQuarrie, Innes Ferguson and Jamie Kieron showed their skills for Plockton before Lewis’ Ciaran Murphy blasted in a reponse for Lewis. Norman Ferguson added a second with a penalty for Lewis. The game would end 9-3 to Plockton as Ciaran scored a second penalty.

The report states “both teams were equal in terms of commitment and enthusiasm.” Niomi Maciver impressed the opposing coaches, and John and James MacKenzie “showed they have inherited some of the father’s (Boyd) deftness with the caman.”

And so 1996 came and went. What happened with the Cuach nan Dusan is under reported but a year of great developments in shinty in the Western Isles. Things were looking up. The Lord of the Isles was on its way, as was Dougie Vipond. We’ll find out more in the next look at the archives soon.

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